How could I make a good statement if I were to study a competitive course like Medicine? Any advice on what and what not I should include?
Thank you. x
You are absolutely right - what you write in your UCAS Personal Statement is absolutely critical in the selection process. You should remember that it will be read by virtually the only admissions selectors who are recruiting students for a career as well as for a degree course, and so your passion for studying medicine must come across very clearly indeed. You will naturally need to be a gifted scientist (looking at nothing less than AAB at A level), but academic strengths are only part of the picture; good scientists do not always make good doctors. It is vital that you study carefully the student entry profile published for each course, as these outline the skills and personal qualities that the selectors are looking for. While these profiles naturally have a great deal in common, you should ensure that your Personal Statement comes as close as possible to matching the requirements of your chosen institutions. You must therefore highlight any efforts you have made to discover more about the reality of medical practice, and emphasise any relevant work experience you have had. This should not simply be a catalogue of what, where and when; rather it should focus on how your experience might have differed from your expectations, what you learned from it, and how it has reinforced your determination to enter the medical profession. You are at a very serious disadvantage if you have neglected to arrange plenty of work experience, and preferably in more than one location or context. There is no doubt that experience of the extended kind is the most useful and the most impressive, since it helps you to discover things about your own character (stamina, maturity, commitment) and represents an acid test of your conviction. The selectors are also looking for information about your interests, hobbies and achievements (both in and out of school), especially those that demonstrate qualities of teamwork, initiative and concern for others (see later). Evidence of community service, such as voluntary work with the elderly or the handicapped, or involvement in local charity ventures, is often a critical factor.
The expansion of medical places in recent years has been accompanied by the widespread introduction of schemes designed to widen access to medicine to students from non-traditional backgrounds, including pre-medical foundation programmes for students who do not have the normal A Level requirements for entry. At present about 70% of successful applicants come from the ABC1 social classes, though the proportion is steadily falling. The offer at Cambridge is almost always AAA (and here there is a strong preference for applicants to be sitting three science A Levels); this is also the most likely offer (except for some disadvantaged students) at East Anglia, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham and Southampton. The remaining institutions (including the London medical schools) normally require AAB, with Leeds sometimes making a lower offer at ABB. Most stipulate a minimum of two science subjects at A level (normally Chemistry and Biology), though there are exceptions. They include Leeds, Leicester/Warwick, King's College, St. George's, Royal Free and University College (all London), Newcastle and Southampton, where the requirement is one science subject at A level (normally Chemistry) and another to at least AS level. Most places value a contrasting non-science subject at A level. While offers are invariably made on the basis of three A levels, several universities and all London schools normally look for 21 ‘units’ - in other words, an A or B grade in a fourth AS level subject. Entry requirements are, however, subject to regular change, and information can quickly become out of date.
All institutions screen the UCAS forms, with those applicants not meeting the specifications appearing in the entry profile almost certain to be rejected. Applicants who overcome this first obstacle then often find themselves completing detailed admissions questionnaires (possibly over the internet), with their responses, together with the content of their UCAS Personal Statement, having a significant bearing on whether they reach the interview shortlist. Cambridge, Oxford, the Royal Free and University College, and perhaps this year others require applicants to sit a two hour Bio-Medical Admissions Test, which should be entered for by 30th September. It is sat at school in early November, and is designed to test subject knowledge, numeracy, essay skills, data interpretation and aptitude for science. Specimen papers for BMAT can be found at www.bmat.org.uk. Applicants narrowly missing the terms of their offers are not often admitted to universities or schools, while there are seldom any places in the summer in Clearing. Applicants re-taking one or more A levels will have to present a very strong case if their application is to stand any chance of success, while some departments and schools rule out re-takes altogether. An early application via UCAS is absolutely essential, for there is considerable evidence to suggest that early applicants tend to be more committed and of better quality; they are certainly more likely to be called for interview and to receive conditional offers. In any event there is a deadline of 15th October for forms to reach UCAS. Even the very earliest applicants may wait a long time before receiving notification of interviews and decisions; it is far from uncommon for these to be delayed until February or March. Some good candidates are not made offers; rather they are put on waiting lists, which is one reason for the absence of places in Clearing. You are permitted to nominate a maximum of four institutions on your UCAS form. The remaining two choices may be left blank, or else you may make applications in subjects related to medicine, such as pharmacy or pharmacology.
You should try to read the UCAS Student’s Guide to Entry in Medicine, which offers extremely useful information and advice. You need to be aware that medicine is one of the longest courses of study for any degree. You should therefore be utterly convinced that this is what you want to do with your working life since, in selecting a medical degree course, you are of course also selecting a future career. A course in medicine is academically, physically and emotionally demanding, and you will need to be particularly robust to be able to deal with setbacks, crises and stress. Following the recommendation of the General Medical Council, medical schools have in recent years made quite radical changes to their courses. There is greater integration of the ‘pre-clinical’ and ‘clinical’ programmes, less reliance on factual information, and far more time devoted to communication skills and to practical clinical tasks; there is more ‘self-learning’, as well as more group and individual work. All medical schools now put an emphasis on contact with patients as early as possible in the course. Hence there is no ‘facts on a plate’ approach, and instead you will be exposed to problem-based learning, being required to discover quite a lot of information for yourself. You qualify at the end of your fifth year; and there are then two pre-registration years of general clinical training, one as a house officer in a general hospital and one of further training for general practice and hospital specialities. This is a period of very demanding work, very long hours and increasing responsibilities. On successful conclusion of this period application can be made for full registration with the GMC.
All of this dictates what you must include in your Personal Statement, as this will have a critical bearing on whether you are called for interview. If you are called for interview you will face searching questions about your motivation, work at school and personal interests. A key issue will be your reasons for wanting to become a doctor, and whether you have the critical personal qualities of compassion, resourcefulness, boundless energy and perseverance that are required. So you need to provide evidence of all this in your Statement.There is greater uniformity in selection policies these days, though individual medical schools might still have somewhat different views about the qualities that make a good medical student and a good doctor. What they are all looking for is unambiguous evidence that you will ultimately be a valuable and successful member of a caring profession. Training a doctor costs about £250,000, and so institutions want the kind of people who will make a success of the course and who will stay in the profession. For your application to stand any chance of success you will need to demonstrate all of the following qualities; hence you need to provide concrete evidence of several of them in your Statement.
- A clear sense of vocation
- Self-motivation and excellent personal organisation (with evidence from your present work and activities)
- A willingness to learn at all times
- Practical concern for the welfare of others (through, for example, voluntary or charity work)
- Excellent communication and ‘inter-personal’ skills
- Determination, energy, perseverance, resilience, enthusiasm and the ability to make a success of the course; tenacity in pursuit of a result
- A curiosity about the scientific basis of medicine, and some knowledge of strategies for treatment of diseases, and for prevention of illness
- Humanity, compassion and patience
- Originality and initiative; creativity; flexibility
- Honesty, integrity, modesty and a sense of humour
- Evidence that you are a balanced individual, with hobbies and interests that will counter some of the stress
- Leadership skills and an ability to accept responsibility, and to take difficult decisions
- An awareness of current medical and ethical issues (such as abortion, euthanasia, embryology, HIV and AIDS, CJD, and cancer and circulatory diseases)
- An ability to find solutions to problems and the confidence to rise to challenges
- Evidence that you are a team player
- ICT skills (at least at a basic level)
- Excellent physical and mental health
Your description of your Work Experience(s) is also absolutely vital. Remember - stress what you learned, how it might have differed from your expectations, and how it reinforced your decision to apply to read medicine.
I hope this is helpful. Good luck with your application.